Into the Wild
Identities are up for grabs in Nell Zink's pastoral caper
by Nell Zink
$26.99 List Price
It’s always pleasing when a strange and distinctive novelist comes outfitted with a name that she might have invented for one of her strange and distinctive characters, and still more pleasing when the actual facts of her personal history seem to have sprung directly from the cortical folds of her own weird brain. Take Nell Zink, an American writer in her early fifties who lives in Germany. Born in California and raised in Virginia, Zink has been, among other things, a construction worker, a secretary for the VP of European marketing for Colgate-Palmolive, the editor of an animal-themed post-punk fanzine, a doctoral student in media studies at the University of Tübingen, and a writer of technical texts in Tel Aviv. Subscribing to the principle, at once self-affirming and self-defeating, that, as she told the Paris Review, “there’s never a market for true art,” Zink spent years writing fiction that she only showed to a single friend, the Israeli poet Avner Shats. In 2011, she contacted Jonathan Franzen about a German ornithologist she admired. Struck by her letter, Franzen surmised that Zink was a writer. Bewildered by her nonexistent output, he told her to get serious about publishing.
Zink wrote much of The Wallcreeper (2014), her first published novel, in four days. The delirious, deadpan story of an American woman who gets married to a relative stranger as a means of early retirement and, one loopy roller coaster of a plot later, becomes an ecoterrorist in Germany, it was released last year by the tiny feminist press Dorothy. Zink then set out to write another, more